Amitt Sharma, 26, a Delhi-based entrepreneur, has been working on various 3D printing projects as a hobby since the past four years. He has used his open-source 3D printer to make sculptures, utility items like pen stands and other personalized gift items, and even an enclosure for his Raspberry Pi (tiny desktop computer).
Sharma belongs to a new crop of young users who are taking advantage of desktop 3D printers to create things they want, instead of spending money on buying them or getting them manufactured. According to Sharma, to make anything using plastic earlier, he had to go to a manufacturer who would charge him an exorbitant amount. Now he can do it at a lower price, from within the comfort of his home in a matter of hours.
“A 3D printer can be a utility product to print customized tools, which may not be found in a shop due to change of products and shortage. It can be a creative way to enhance a child’s creativity in designing something and then printing it for usage. It can be used for decorative items like a flower pot, chandelier, interiors, fixing handles or any missing part that needs to be printed," points out Shibu John, secretary general and founder, 3D Printing Education and Research Association.
3D printers for home users are a lot smaller in size (since they need to fit on a desk) and easier to operate, compared to their larger counterparts that are used in automotive and manufacturing. Most of these desktop 3D printers use fused deposition modelling (FDM) 3D technology (also known as FFF or fused filament fragmentation) as it costs less. This type of a printer melts a plastic filament and then positions it layer by layer (hence the word additive), one above the other to form the final object. According to Formlabs, FDM printers are best for basic proof of concept model or low-cost prototypes of parts. They have lower resolution and may not give accurate results when printing objects with complex design or intricate features, which will need the more expensive Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) printers.
“They (SLS) can cost over ₹1 crore. Although there are some desktop versions of SLS that cost less, but they are not as user-friendly as the industrial ones," says Swapnil Sansare, CEO and founder, Divide By Zero, a 3D printer manufacturer. A desktop SLS printer can cost around ₹3 lakh and can print multiple objects in a single day. SLS printers use laser to fuse small particles of polymer powder and create objects with complex structures and patterns. People spending on 3D Printers for home use are almost negligible in number and more awareness is needed, rues Sansare. He adds: “Before believing it will reach every home, we need to work on our education system. If it turns out to be the part of our education system then things will change in the next five years."
John points out that currently many schools have installed 3D printers for projects and, with time, it can be a good device for homes as well.
Cost of ownership for an FDM desktop 3D printer is a lot cheaper compared to an SLS printer. A do-it-yourself FDM printer, which can print small objects, starts from ₹18,000. The ones with bed size of 200 x 200 mm and which can print larger objects can cost from ₹50,000 to over ₹2-3 lakh. The price is based on size, speed, microns, precision, design and machine body. A Polylactic acid (PLA) filament, used in FDM printers, with a diameter of 1.75mm and length of 300 metres costs around ₹1,000. One can use any third-party filament with an FDM printer. Handling the FDM printer is also easier than SLS printers. “Also, a portable lightweight machine can be handled by a child, but needs to be supervised by an elder. In most cases, the machine is closed from all sides, but some 3D machines are open," cautions John.
Sharma notes that you don’t need to know 3D design for manufacturing products at home. There are plenty of free models that one can download and print from platforms such as Thingiverse. Clearly, the 3D printing landscape has matured enough to let users with the creative streak manufacture things from within the comfort of their study, garage or living room without splurging too much money.
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